The Melksham, Calne and Chippenham Branch
of the
 Wilts & Berks Canal Trust

This is the Unofficial Website for the Melksham, Calne and Chippenham Branch

Special Features

Cocklemore Culvert rebuild A light hearted look at Restoration Extreme Brickwork!




Cocklemore Culvert Rebuild

Along the line of the canal there are a number of culverts carrying streams under the canal. One such waterway is Cocklemore Brook and it flows under the canal through Cocklemore Culvert. The culvert was inspected in 2010 by a local caving group and visual inspection/photographs revealed nothing untoward. Unfortunately in Feb 2014 the volume and speed of the water flowing through this culvert caused part of the culvert to collapse. The water quickly eroded the clay and before much could be done a whole section of the canal collapsed and the water in it drained away. Immediate action took place to protect the public using the tow path and then the canal was dammed to prevent further water loss. Cocklemore Culvert became a major engineering job for us and we couldn’t have imagined just what would be the consequences in time and money when we had that call to say a small hole had appeared in the tow path. 

It was decided that the whole culvert would have to be rebuilt, concrete pipe was considered but the costs and logistics of installation were too great. A massive excavation job ensued.., dig the clay from theaffected section of canal, dismantle the culvert, keep the water level low enough for volunteers to work safely (remember this was a stream that we could not divert). Tons of silt had to be removed from the culvert intself by volunteers in waders, using spades, shovels and sometimes gloved hands.

Starting to strip away old bricks, which we reused elsewhere

We completed half the culvert but were running out of money and decided work had to stop. Trust fundraising director and branch volunteer Kath Hatton discovered the Yorkshire Building Society Living Legacy Awards and Dave Maloney organised an effective campaign usimng Facebook to get the thousands who voted for us.We were granted £10,000 which enabled us to carry on with the work. In just over 12 months the culvert was completely rebuilt; using three layers of bricks in a pattern/method devised by trust engineers and branch volunteers, it was a beautiful job but hopefully it will never see the sight of day again!

50% complete :)


Last brick was laid on 3rd May 2015 by Lee Hathway of the Yorkshire Building society.

We plan an interpretation board to celebrate the work done by Ray, Basil and the team.



A Short History of Canal Restoration

The most important thing, when restoring a canal, is to have a good time.  The work you are offering would not attract candidates if you paid them ten pounds an hour; and you have nothing. 

But first find your canal.  Often the only visible remain is the boundary hedge.  To the untrained eye it is merely the side of a field.  But a slight dip fifteen yards out, and a little rise three yards before the hedge confirm this was once a canal, now filled and grassed over.  Much better than this are two canal hedges grown together in a formidable barrier of thorn, blackberry and wild rose.  You have found your canal; now all you need is an owner with a liking for eccentrics, even perhaps a tolerance for the occasional lunatic.

Early morning, the light still grey, your team assembles, doubts never far from the surface.  Give them a bonfire.  Concentrate on the fire.  Small sticks, dry sticks, a spiral of smoke, more dry sticks, slightly bigger sticks; an hour passes and you have something to consume whole branches.  The fire demands more; the saws saw, the slashers slash.  The fire grows, flames and smoke leap to the sky.  Before you notice the morning has gone and a surprising area has been cleared.  A dozen Sundays and you will be quite impressed with your own piece of canal.

The cleared canal needs digging out, funds must be raised; raffles and quizzes, sponsored walks and boat rallies on nearby rivers.  Administration and negotiation; planning permission and planning protection; engineering skills and financial care are brought together.  The once isolated group clearing a few hundred yards of canal has spawned other groups.  One restored length becomes a dozen.

 The Local Authority sits up.  These people have stamina.  Dammit, some are professional.  Two or three even understand the planning process. 

 Around the polished table heads are bowed, paper piled neatly.  A neighbouring canal has won the lottery, twenty five million pounds.  Could we get some of that?  You bet we could.  Twenty years after that first bonfire the Authorities are committed.  Ten more years pass and the major planning issues are resolved, land is purchased and the big contracts are let.

 Machines roar, light dances on the underside of new bridges and locks gleam in the sun.

 Can the volunteer rest at last?  Oh, but the grass needs trimming here and the nettles threaten the cycle path there.  Benches would be nice for old legs and maybe the political situation is not quite secure.  More members will demonstrate the demand, and nothing, you know, quite matches the clearing gangs giving up their weekends in rain and wind. 

 Come on lads, just one more push. 

Colin Fletcher

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